(Investigator 135, 2010 November)

Crop circles are mysterious patterns appearing in grain fields all over the world, but more particularly in the southern and western counties of England in the 1980s. Although first publicized about 15 years ago, in the last few years the number of circles has increased dramatically.

The formations are usually geometrically precise, the stalks being flattened without being broken, in a clockwise or anti¬clockwise direction. They vary in diameter from a few metres to as much as 60 metres, some surrounded by narrow rings, others have four or more satellite circles or "spots" around the perimeter.

Patterns other than circles have been discovered — geometric patterns of several circles and straight lines; pictograms resembling abstract or archaic alphabets, and insectograms — stick like figures resembling insects or "little green men." The phenomenon has baffled scientists, meteorologists and psychic investigators alike, and organizations have been formed specifically to investigate these bizarre appearances.

 In one such investigation, thirty circle fans camped out using the latest technological equipment and discovered nothing. In another, two men watched in relays, twenty-four hours a day for three weeks. Despite their vigil, a circle formed near them unseen by the watchers. Even air surveillance has thrown no light on the subject and a plausible explanation had yet to be offered.

According to anecdotal and undocumented reports, the appearance of some of the circles have coincided with strange noises and lights, others tell of unearthly substances and malfunctioning photographic equipment when the investigator has entered the circle.

Some of the hypotheses advanced to explain the patterns include alien visitors, downdrafts from helicopters, a fungus, a spiraling ball of air coming down to the ground and a "plasma vortex" — an unknown type of precisely localized whirlwind carrying rotating electrically charged particles. The latter postulation by an amateur meteorologist, Dr. Meaden (1990), of the Tornado and Storm Research Organization, is considered by many to be a credible hypothesis.

One researcher, Mr George Wingfield, of the Centre for Crop Circle Studies, believes that because the circles are so perfect there must be an intelligence directing their creation, they are not a natural phenomenon.

This suggestion appears to be gaining popular acceptance. The idea that the circles are created by a superior intelligence or are signs to warn those on earth of pending disaster, sits well with those people looking for evidence to reinforce their belief in the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and alien visits to our planet. However, it is significant that the patterns only appear in open fields and not on the sides of hills, across ditches, hedges and other boundaries, and further, a study of the photographs taken of the patterns will show that in all cases there is a path, furrow or farm machinery track leading into all corn fields which would allow ingress and egress for a person on the ground to make the pattern. To me this suggests a hoax.

About one hundred circles were reported between 1918 and 1979, and in 1989, three hundred and three were documented. The greatest proliferation of circles has occurred in the English counties of Wiltshire and Hampshire (over 200 were found in 1991), and while there may have been many anecdotal and undocumented reports of associated lights, noises and strange happenings accompanying the appearance of a new pattern, no hard evidence has been forthcoming.

When considering the hypotheses put forward by some theorists, it should be borne in mind that many of the investigators belonging to or who have convened organizations to examine the phenomenon, seek only to support their own prejudices, their theories being based on conjecture and a predisposition to believe in the untenable. Typical are those who claim that the circles are formed by alien space craft landing in the fields, or that they are messages from extraterrestrial intelligences.

The former can be dismissed in view of the diversity of shapes and sizes and the absence of any accompanying visual sightings, and the second I would consider to be an insult to any extraterrestrial civilization capable of inter-galactic space travel. Why would the possessors of such advanced technology resort to primitive pictographs to communicate with earthlings when even a cursory reconnaissance of the planet would reveal that we evolved beyond that stage millennia ago?

The logic applied by some "experts" to the origin of corn circles leaves much to be desired, one claims that he can differentiate between a "genuine" circle and a "hoax" circle because the hoax circles are too crude, then in the next breath dismisses a circle as a hoax because it is too perfect!

Dr Terence Meaden, formerly associate professor of physics at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada, has made a study of the circles for thirty years. In 1974, he founded TORRO, the Tornado and Storm Research Organization, and in 1988 CERES, the Circles Effect Research group. His theory that circles were caused by vortices was initially considered to be a plausible explanation, but in view of the many unsymmetrical and multiple shapes and particularly the complete absence of meteorological reports confirming such unusual atmospheric disturbances, this can be ruled out.

The downdraft from a helicopter can be dismissed on several counts — the pattern shapes and sizes, further, the extraordinary amount of air traffic and concomitant aerobatics required to produce the patterns on an almost daily basis would have surely incurred the ire of farmers and drawn media attention. I would also rule out flying saucers on the grounds that both in landing and take-off rocket propulsion would be used which would be most unlikely to flatten the stalks in neat circles. The same reasoning could be applied if the craft were powered by some anti-gravity device. The fungus theory advanced by two biologists, Michael Hall and Andrew Macara, credits a common fungus which lives underground and attacks the roots of crops and spreads in a radial fashion. While circles in lawns and pastures caused by the spreading of the mycelia of certain fungi are common and popularly called fairy rings, the odd shapes again tend to invalidate this theory.

Although Circle spotters dismiss the suggestion that crop circles are simply a hoax, when the options are considered this is revealed as the most likely explanation. How could it be done? One simple method is to drive a stake with a length of string attached to it into the ground then starting at the stake, the perpetrator holds the string and walks clockwise (or anti-clockwise) around the stake gradually paying out the string and working his way outwards. When the desired diameter is reached, the string is wound up and the stake removed. Voila! A perfect crop circle!

The exponential proliferation of circles is explained by the fact that we all love a good joke and can't wait to tell someone else, the same applies to a simple hoax. Some enterprising farmers have got in on the act, making their own circles and charging viewers a fee!

Since writing this chapter the mystery of the circles appears to have been solved. Two middle-aged British artists, Doug Bower and David Chorley, (1991), have claimed responsibility for many of them. Mr Bower lived in Queensland, Australia, from 1958 to 1966, and recalls reading a newspaper report in 1966, about a tractor driver in Tully, North Queensland, who claimed to have seen a flying saucer ascending from a nest of swirled marsh-grass. When he returned to England he and Mr Chorley decided to create their own circles in 1976, "for a bit of a laugh." Thus the circles myth was born of a prank.

Because of the interest in UFOs at the time, they thought that if they created their own nest in a wheat-field it would give the impression that something had landed there. The publicity and speculation which followed the appearance of the first circle added to the excitement.

Over the next thirteen years the pair perfected the technique of flattening crops in increasing intricate patterns. They were amused when their efforts were described as the work of a higher intelligence and researchers from around the world began arriving to study the corn circles.

They finally decided to come clean when the government started to consider spending tax payers' money on researching the phenomenon.

Despite the exposure of this hoax which has evidently been copied by other pranksters in Britain and around the world, many people still believe that there is another explanation.

The latest theory proposed by George Wingfield of London's Centre for Crop Circle Studies, and Pat Delago, author of three books on the subject, is that of an international conspiracy — cover-up by the CIA, the French Secret Service and the British Ministry of Defence to avert public hysteria.

Such is the mind of the true believer!


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____________________  1990. Crop Circles — The Latest Evidence.
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Meaden, G.T. 1990. The Circles Effect and Its Mysteries. Artetech.
___________ 1991. Journal of Meteorology. 16 (159) 163. May/June.
___________1991. Goddess of the Stones. Souvenir Press.

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[From: Edwards, Harry c.1996 A Skeptic's Guide to the New Age]

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